The note had been delivered by hand, a Tanaka bowing and proffering it. It was genuine paper, bound with a genuine ribbon, and written in Japanese with an old-style brush. The elegant calligraphy and means of delivery suggested it came from the inner circle. The Chairman requests the pleasure of your company, it said, with a date and a time.
The man himself. Hitomi twisted the ribbon around her finger. She had been with the Jinteki corporation for nearly a decade now, and was only beginning to feel comfortable understanding the blend of old and new. A good message, she decided. Her work as a clone psychologist was valuable to the corporation, but she wasn't important enough to have attracted Hiro’s displeasure. If he wanted to meet her, it must be because he was considering her for some sort of promotion or a special project.
The Chairman was shorter than he’d looked on virt and in promotional stills. Hitomi reminded herself that height and authority are instinctually correlated in the human mind, but not necessarily in the real world. One of the reasons most clones are short. There was a tea ceremony, and Hitomi was certain she’d flubbed some details, but the Chairman didn't seem to mind. He invited her to walk with him in his private garden.
The garden was beautiful, a green paradise in the heart of New Angeles—or, truth be told, a kilometer above New Angeles. The conversation as they walked was stiff and formal, and entirely in Japanese. How was her husband. Was her daughter doing well. Did she enjoy her job. Fine. Very well, thank you. Of course. When she inquired about his own children, Hiro came to a rest, turning to look down at the next tier of the arcology. Another garden lay there, with a young woman in a kimono tending to a bonsai tree. Hitomi was uncertain if she was human or a clone.
“It is the duty of parents to raise a new generation that equals and exceeds the last. But success is a difficult thing to measure. Tell me, what is the purpose of the Jinteki corporation?” asked the Chairman.
Ah, thought Hitomi. The test. “I haven't given it much thought. I suppose... Jinteki corporation seeks mastery of ourselves. Not of ourselves individually, but of our potential as human beings. Each of our clone families, they are expressions of that potential, guided in different ways.” Chairman Hiro made a sound, something between a grunt and a word. She took it for approval and gestured to a Tenma standing at a hopper pad that was discreetly blended into the garden beneath them. “The Tenmas, for example-it is not glamorous, to be a driver, but that is a potential within each human. And the Tenmas are the perfect expressions of that potential” She smiled, looking away. “And if not, then the next generation will be. Or the next.”
“The next generation,” said the Chairman, nodding. “Human potential. Yes?” The young woman in the garden below turned and looked up at them, though Hitomi was certain that she could not have heard their conversation. “Tell me, what have you heard of the Nisei Project?”
The study smelled of old ideas and times past. Antique floor lamps and cases filled with printed books lined the walls; there was not a screen or PAD to be found in any of the room's four dusty corners.
Iain Stifling brushed past a faded red-cushioned couch and yanked at a red leather book. Rather than tumbling from its resting place on the shelf, it sprung back into place as the great wooden bookcase swung open, revealing a hidden doorway.
"Lights on.” The warm glow of tru-light greeted Stirling as he passed through the door, and the bookcase swung shut behind him. He was in a room, not much larger than the study he had just passed, but the contrast was striking. Virt projectors lined each wall, displaying a host of images from news feeds, security cameras, hidden bugs, cracked PADs, and all manner of other technology. In the middle of the room a leather chair stood watch over a mahogany desk, on which rested a glowing orange scroll. Iain walked over to the desk, his perfectly-shined Jovian shoes clicking on the granite slabs that made up the floor. He sunk down behind the desk and reached for his console. The scroll hummed when he touched the grip extended from its side, and the display sprung to life as it recognized his DNA.
Stirling flicked to his personal feed; there were several tasty morsels of information he was expecting to receive. But there were only the regular daily reports. He sighed, and clicked a button on the underside of the desk. A compartment slid back, and a tumbler and minibar appeared.
As Stirling sipped on his 30 year-old Macdougall, a complex malt with hints of treacle, sherry, and honeycomb, he flipped through his personal feeds in search of leverage. A private meeting between a Cybsoft executive and an Armitage clerk was looking promising when an alert ping lit up his console, turning the display from a bright orange to an insistent red. One of his crawlers reporting back, priority one. He tapped the “Receive” function and read the report. It was a blue-level surveillance request from Jinteki, written in shorthand. The subject was himself. He still recognized all of the jargon from his years in the NSCA.
The request had been authorized. Authorized requests at that level meant that the NAPD's cyber branch would be required to launch an investigation in concert with Jinteki.
A megacorp and the most powerful cyber-security force in New Angeles. He sipped his scotch, and smiled. He activated a direct feed from Chairman Hiro's vacation home in Okinawa. It had been a while since he'd had a challenge.
“I don’t understand,” said the clone. Fear tinged his voice. Express knew that tone; it had been his own voice not much more than a year ago.
Express turned to go. The clone scrambled from its hopper and took a few uncertain stutter-steps towards him. “I don't...I don't understand! Who are you? What are you?”
Express turned back. He smirked, looking the clone right in the eye. The clone's face, a twin of his own, was open, confused-a child’s face, with every emotion writ across it for anyone to read. The clone was staring at him, open-mouthed, its eyes flicking over every inch of him, faster than human. Express knew the clone was taking in every detail, would remember every detail.
The clone leaned forward, its voice dropping to a strained hush. “Are you...like me?”
Express clapped the clone on the shoulder, The clone startled, unused to anyone making physical contact. “Brother,” said Express, “I’m nothing like you. You're a servant, a machine, an ‘it’, I'm a person, with my own cash and my own style and my own life.”
“Oh,” said the clone, looking away. Its programming was catching up to it, overcoming the confusion. “I just...you look so much like me. I thought-never mind. I'd better get back to my duties.”
“Sure,” said Express. “Delivery driver. Sixteen per hour or you get a demerit.” Express climbed onto his Qianju and turned back to the clone. He smirked again. “l’m not like you. But if you're lucky, brother, you could be like me.” Then he gunned the engine and peeled out.
For a moment he wondered why he did it. It was a risk, after all-falling into a pattern, always hiring a courier company that used Tenma-model clones as drivers. If a cop or a corp samurai figured out the pattern, he could use it to get at Express. Was it altruism? Did he feel kinship for his clone-brothers, want to lift them up out of their chains? If that was true, why didn't he ever do it? Why didn't he just grab the next courier and throw him over the back of his Qianju and say “welcome to your new life, brother”?
Express stopped his Qianju outside his flat. He climbed off the vehicle and took a moment to adjust his clothes. Top of the line, finest cut. Inside, dozens of square meters of his own personal space. Maybe, he thought, he just wanted a reminder of how far he'd come.
10 seconds. The knowledge appeared directly into her consciousness, her console placing it there via its on-board brain-net. The absolute certainty of her window was bone-deep in her, and she moved with easy confidence. The door opened. Three steps to the access console. A quick tug with the right tool and the panel came off. She placed her finger on the circuitry beneath and her vision swam with a flood of new data, filtered through her system.
7 seconds. The datastream resolved into a simple ice pattern; Silhouette's breaker suite cut through it without her needing to intervene. She was in. Looping the camera feed was simple. Looping the motion sensors, thermographic feed, and EM variance grid was a little more complicated. But doable.
5 seconds. She left a crawler on the server, not expecting it to find anything-hardline segregated from the rest of the network, would be her guess. Jacking out, she sprinted down the hall, thankful for the suit's subtle augmentation. Around the corner. The door to the stairwell opened as she approached, her elD now recognized as a superuser.
2 seconds. Out onto the 32nd floor, hard left, and there was the door. It opened as well, and she slipped through.
0 seconds. She crossed to the window, checked to make sure her escape line was in place. Just in case. Then she waited. She amused herself examining the office. The old-style 2D photographs of wife, kids, something that might have been a dog. A violin behind glass. A picture of the occupant; she could work up a profile based on this office alone, maybe sell it upstalk to the competition.
Finally, the door opened, and the woman stepped through. She squawked, spilling her YucaBean on the floor, narrowly missing her tailored suit. “What are you doing here?”
“I like to meet face-to-face,” said Silhouette, ignoring the accusatory tone. The woman tossed her now almost empty YucaBean cup into a wastebasket, and stepped forward and tapped the opaque faceplate of Silhouette's helmet. “So you say.”
Silhouette dropped the folder on the faux wood desk. “It's all there.”
“Alright,” said the woman. She touched the folder, went behind the desk, and pulled out a smaller envelope of her own. “Your bonus, as agreed.” Silhouette took the reluctantly proffered envelope and tucked it into her suit's only pocket. “You didn't have to penetrate all my security and surprise me in my own damn office!” The woman brushed invisible flecks of coffee from her suit. “Couldn't we meet in a park, a garage? I'm your client!"
“Today you’re my client. Tomorrow, you might be my target.” Silhouette turned to go. "By the way, there's a ten-second downtime on your security AI after a power-cycle. Might want to look into that.”